OSHKOSH, Wis. (WFRV) – “I told myself that if I saw anything, anything that would help me, or could help me, that I would take it,” recalled Joe Wester.
For the U.S. Coast Guard vet, that sign turned out to be man’s best friend – A dog named Betsy.
But their journey to each other wasn’t so easy.
Nearly 12 years in the Coast Guard, saving lives when a tragic accident changed Wester’s life forever.
Suffering from trauma both physically and mentally, and with an identity built around the Coast Guard, Wester wasn’t sure what was next.
“That was it. I was still going through some medical issues, I still had some injuries I was healing from and once I got my DD214, I was out,” Wester said. “I didn’t really have a life before the service, I was a high school student and I got out. So, I didn’t have thAT ability to mature outside of the military. To me, everything was the Coast Guard and that was what I had matured into,” he recalled.
It left Wester lost.
“I made a plan to end my life… I was going to take my life. I couldn’t find a way out of that hole, it was very dark,” said Wester.
And on the day he was set to take his own life, a soda cup at a Firehouse Subs in Oshkosh is perhaps what saved his life. The cup featured an ad for K9s For Warriors, an organization that pairs veterans with service dogs, like Betsy.
“I saw the cup, and it’s like a big emotional thing. When you make a decision like that, it’s very serious, it’s a very heavy weight, and to me, that cup was like an over-the-top moment,” Wester said.
The day Wester’s life would begin to change.
He entered the program with K9s for Warriors and found his way to Betsy. His now full-time companion.
Wester started to see life through a different lens.
“I would not have survived,” he recalled. “Had it not been for the cup and the phone call, I wouldn’t be here. It’s like a wound that heals, you don’t realize that it’s good until you take the band-aid off. After a year it really sunk in, like we’re part of a team, we can work together,” said Wester.
And they do work together, every day.
Betsy travels to work with Wester at his job as a tool designer at Oshkosh Defense.
She’s there in his moments of need, and Wester wants other vets who are struggling to know, that there is help when they’re in need, too.
“Talking is such a powerful thing, you’re not just letting yourself out, you’re letting other people in. And sometimes that’s kind of what needs to happen. In my case I needed to know that there were other people out there who could support me in a time when I needed support,” said Wester.
Even if that someone is a four-legged friend.
If you or someone you know is struggling or in crisis, call or text 988 for the suicide and crisis lifeline.
To connect with K9s for Warriors, click here.